NJ trooper’s use of deadly force against carjacking suspect justified, grand jury says
ELIZABETH — A Union County grand jury has determined that a State Police detective was justified and acting in self-defense when he fatally shot a suspected carjacker.
According to a statement from the Union County Prosecutor's Office, the detective, whose name was not released, shot a suspect identified as Daniel Wolfe, 35, of Sayreville, in the left shoulder and upper torso after the man allegedly tried to hit him in a stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee on April 21, 2015, in the Vauxhall section of Union Township.
The detective was one of three officers in unmarked police vehicles conducting surveillance of a location where the carjacked Jeep was believed to be located. Police say at about 5:52 p.m., Wolfe was seen getting into the vehicle. Police identified themselves and moved to arrest him. The man entered the vehicle, put it in reverse and struck another car.
Authorities say police tried to box the suspect him to detain him, but he "revved the engine of the Grand Cherokee, quickly accelerated forward, and jumped a curb immediately in front of" one of the the detectives, driving directly toward him. The detective fired his 9mm service pistol twice, striking Wolfe, who later succumbed to his injuries.
According to MyCentralJersey.com, Wolfe entered the state prison system on May 10, 2010. He was released on Jan. 5, 2015, three months before the alleged carjacking. In 2010, he was sentenced in Essex County for unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, resisting arrest, and eluding. He was sentenced in January 2011 on burglary and theft by unlawful taking charges in Middlesex County and in September 2011 he was sentenced for burglary.
Witnesses at the scene told investigators that had the trooper not opened fire, Wolfe would have struck him with the Grand Cherokee.
State guidelines require prosecutors who investigate a police-involved shooting to release a public report detailing the investigation into the circumstances of the shooting as well as a grand jury's determination.
The following report was issued by the Union County Prosecutor's Office following the grand jury's decision:
In accordance with the Supplemental Law Enforcement Directive Amending Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2006-5, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office is releasing the following public statement regarding the use of deadly force by a New Jersey State Police Detective.
On April 21, 2015, members of the New Jersey State Police Interstate Theft North Unit were conducting an investigation regarding a stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee. The owner of the Jeep had been forcibly carjacked on April 13, 2015 in Bloomfield.
The investigators had received information that the vehicle would be in one of two locations in Central New Jersey on April 21, 2015. They subsequently located the vehicle at 1800 block of Manor Drive in the Vauxhall section of Union Township. Three New Jersey State Police Detectives in three unmarked police vehicles then began surveillance of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
At 5:52 p.m., a man later identified as Daniel Wolfe, 35, of Sayreville was dropped off near the Grand Cherokee, began walking toward the vehicle, and activated a key fob to unlock the vehicle’s doors. New Jersey State Police Detectives No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 then immediately moved to arrest Mr. Wolfe, with Detective No. 1 traveling on foot and Detectives Nos. 2 and 3 in their unmarked vehicles. Detective No. 1 was wearing a black tactical vest bearing the words “State Police” in large block letters.
Mr. Wolfe quickly entered the Jeep Grand Cherokee and immediately put the vehicle in reverse, striking an Audi parked immediately behind him. At this point New Jersey State Police Detective No. 1 was standing in front of the vehicle while the two unmarked New Jersey State Police vehicles attempted to box in Mr. Wolfe diagonally to the left, from the back. Detective No. 1 yelled “Stop! Police!” several times.
Detective No. 1’s back was against a brick apartment building wall on a small grass median about two feet in length. Mr. Wolfe revved the engine of the Grand Cherokee, quickly accelerated forward, and jumped a curb immediately in front of Detective No. 1, driving directly toward him.
Detective No. 1 fired his 9mm service pistol twice as the Grand Cherokee approached. One bullet entered the front driver’s side window and the second bullet entered the upper door frame of the front driver’s side door.
One of the bullets struck Mr. Wolfe in the left shoulder. The second bullet entered Mr. Wolfe’s upper torso, striking multiple internal organs. Mr. Wolfe continued to drive the Grand Cherokee out of apartment complex, making a right turn and then striking several parked cars before coming to a stop.
Detectives Nos. 1, 2, and 3 rushed to the scene. Detectives Nos. 2 and 3 applied combat gauze in an attempt to stop Mr. Wolfe’s bleeding and administered CPR. Emergency medical personnel were immediately contacted, but Mr. Wolfe died shortly after receiving CPR.
A New Jersey Office of the Attorney General Shooting Response Team investigation was immediately initiated. A civilian eyewitness in a second-floor apartment observed the incident unfold immediately after the point in time when Mr. Wolfe backed into the Audi. The eyewitness observed the Jeep Grand Cherokee drive directly at Detective No. 1 and believed that the vehicle would have hit the Detective if he had not fired his weapon.
This primary civilian eyewitness was less than 40 feet away from the events as they unfolded. A second civilian eyewitness, who was also nearby on the ground level, also observed Mr. Wolfe drive near Detective No. 1.
Photographs taken shortly after the events clearly delineate two sets of tire tracks from the Jeep Grand Cherokee. One set of tracks, located immediately beyond the concrete curb, directly faced the location where Detective No. 1 had been was standing. A second set of tracks corroborate the escape route of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Detective No. 1 provided a sworn statement to investigators indicating that he was pinned against the wall as the Jeep Grand Cherokee approached and he had nowhere to move given the speed and size of the oncoming vehicle. Detective No. 1 said he believed his life was in jeopardy and shot his service weapon twice to stop the driver. Civilian eyewitness No. 1 confirmed the lethal threat posed by the vehicle.
No video surveillance footage of the incident was found to exist.
In accordance with Law Enforcement Directive 2006-5, this matter was presented to the Union County Grand Jury. The Grand Jury returned a no-bill of indictment and found Detective No. 1 to be justified in his use of deadly force as an act of self-defense.
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office complied with all portions of the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive regarding the investigation of police use of deadly force.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.
More from New Jersey 101.5: